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Speaking the Right Amount on the TOEFL

Recently, quite a few Magooshers have asked me if they need to speak for the full amount of time they’re given on the Speaking Section. Do you really need to speak a full 45 seconds on Independent Speaking and a full 60 seconds on the Integrated tasks?

The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is that on the TOEFL, you need to take care to speak just the right amount. Not too little, not too much.

The first thing you should remember is that clear, well-organized speech is important. Speaking the full 45-60 seconds is not. In fact, you should probably try to avoid speaking all the way up to the exact time limit. If you try to go exactly the full time, you risk running out of time mid-word or mid-sentence. This will hurt your score, and sometimes hurt it a lot.

Having said that, you do want to have an answer that seems complete, and demonstrates your ability to speak English well at length.

For the Integrated tasks that take up most of the Speaking Section (4 out of the 6 TOEFL Speaking tasks), I advise aiming for somewhere between 50 and 55 seconds. This gives you room for a few extra seconds if your speech takes longer than expected. It also gives you room to come up a little short. A response slightly under 50 seconds, if it is well done, can get good marks on the TOEFL.

For Independent Speaking, you don’t want to go the full 45 seconds either. But here, there’s a much bigger risk of speaking for too long, not running short on time. These first two TOEFL Speaking tasks really do give you a lot less time, compared to the Integrated tasks. And there’s still a lot you could say, and may need to say. The first Independent Speaking task asks you to talk about something important from your personal life, in detail. And for the second Independent task, you must give and support your opinion on an important social issue, such as giving to charity, health, the right study habits, etc…

Fitting all of this into 45 seconds can be challenging, but it is doable. The trick here is to conserve your words— think of the simplest way to express your main ideas. For example, suppose you were asked this TOEFL Independent Speaking Question (taken from Official TOEFL iBT Tests):

  • Some people enjoy watching movies or television in their spare time. Others prefer reading books or magazines. State which you prefer, and explain why.

 

You could open up with something very wordy, like:

  • “It is my respectful opinion that reading books or magazines is preferable to watching television or movies, for a number of reasons.”

 

But it’s probably better to make your wording simpler, with an opener like:

  • “I prefer reading to watching TV and movies. Let me explain.”

 

Simpler wording not only saves you precious time, but also sounds more speech-like, more natural and conversational. Don’t get too simple of course. Make sure you answer the question completely and support your answer well. Try to aim for about 40-43 seconds for Independent Speaking. You’ll have to cut things more close to the time limit, but the farther you go below 40 seconds, the harder it is to give a truly complete answer.

So to sum up, in TOEFL Speaking, get close to the time limit, but not too close. Conserve your words, but don’t say too little. It’s a juggling act, I know. But with practice, you can master your use of time and get your target score.

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6 Responses to Speaking the Right Amount on the TOEFL

  1. Mihir December 18, 2015 at 4:10 am #

    The official guide repeatedly comments this for good/bad responses – “The speaker sustains his response throughout.”. Are they suggesting, that the student should sustain the speech for the entire time?

    • David Recine
      David Recine December 21, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

      The OG is suggesting that students sustain their speech, yes. But this doesn’t mean talking nonstop, without ever pausing. Pauses are a natural part of speech, of course. The trick to sustained speech is to avoid any LONG, *unnatural* pauses. And to keep the quality and pace of your speech consistent throughout the response.

  2. Subotic March 11, 2016 at 6:47 am #

    Hi, was wondering how much being cut off will hurt your score. I have heard on other forums and from teachers that being cutoff prematurely will not prevent you from getting 4/4 as long as the part cut off is just “additional information” and not the main point you are making.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    • David Recine
      David Recine March 16, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

      I can confirm with what many teachers and forum posters say— it IS possible to get a 4/4 if you’re cut off, provided that your answer is pretty much complete and very easy to understand even with some information cut off.

      Still, being cut off often does create some kind of confusion for the scorer who listens to your response. And any real lack of clarity in a response can cause you to lose points. So avoid being cut off if at all possible. The chances of losing points with cutoff are not absolute, but the odds are high that it will hurt you in some way.

  3. Jamal Morelli July 2, 2017 at 11:34 am #

    What about students who only record twenty seconds? What would their score be?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 3, 2017 at 2:00 am #

      Hi Jamal,

      It is hard to say, because it depends a lot on the thoroughness and quality of your response of 20 seconds. Focus on developing a complete answer instead of worrying about the time. 🙂


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